Feast & Famine in farming

FAMINE: A recent story in “Time” magazine dived into Chipotle’s efforts to mount a comeback within the restaurant industry after its stunning — and all-too-predictable — fall from grace in 2015.

Among the issues cited by the publication in detailing Chipotle’s misfortunes: A rash of food-borne illnesses that plagued the chain from coast to coast; a corporate culture that emphasized marketing over quality; and a staggering level of hubris that left a bad taste in the mouth of consumers and vendors.

“Chipotle’s habit of preaching about its methods didn’t help …” the article noted, citing among other things, the chain producing “short films that wagged a finger at anyone engaged in factory farming.”

One gets the impression that Chipotle might be able to stanch its illness-inducing production methods and might replace its carnival-barker executive team with experienced food-industry professionals, but it shows no indications of dispelling the know-it-all arrogance that left it with few friends in the sector.

“There’s nothing like success to make you a target,” quipped Chris Brandt, Chipotle’s new marketing officer.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss: Brandt completely misses the point. Chipotle was — and possibly remains — so busy “targeting” other people’s way of life that the decisionmakers left their own kitchens dangerously unattended.

There’s no indication that they’ve learned that lesson yet.

FEAST: With law enforcement turning a blind eye and the mainstream media in the pocket of animal activists, dairymen from across the Midwest instead are turning to social media and other communication tools to look out for one another.

In late January, a savvy Wisconsin farmer realized that a PETA activist was trying to fraudulently gain employment on his dairy to stage acts of animal cruelty and implicate his operation as “abusive.” 

The farmer rebuffed the attempt, but then went a step farther: He started spreading the word among neighboring operations. Details emerged about the activist’s physical description, potential aliases, companions and the vehicle he was driving. 

Social networks were utilized to spread the details and some professional organizations pushed details out to their members with electronic bulletins. Updates were sent out as more information became available. Data sharing went viral.

Now, more than ever, information is power. And farmers are raising their game in how they share it.

PETA, and others of its ilk, don’t differentiate between a CAFO and a small organic farm. Both are equally complicit in what PETA sees as crimes against the animal kingdom. But when farmers — all farmers — quit judging one another and start working together, PETA militants — more often than not — discover the barn door is closed tight.

FAMINE: A little unsolicited advice: If a lawyer ever knocks on your door with promises of “easy money,” be assured that the only one making that “no-effort moolah” is the attorney.

This is the lesson seven neighbors in Oconto County, Wis., learned the hard way.

Long story short: In 2018, a group sued to stop the construction of an agricultural manure storage area in their community. However, the presiding judge, Jay N. Conley, said there was little evidence to support the neighbors’ allegations the facility would create a nuisance, and that the attorneys should have recognized that and heeded the defendant’s request to dismiss the case before an injunction hearing late in the year.

The plaintiffs — who were once promised a cash cow by an attorney who did not give them good advice — are now potentially on the hook to pay the defendant’s steep legal fees and costs.

“I think the plaintiffs’ law firm was in a better position to understand the baselessness of the claims and that it was going nowhere, probably even more than their clients, and that’s why sanctions are appropriate, not only for plaintiffs, but also their counsel,” Judge Conley noted.

There’s a lesson here for NIMBY neighbors living in agricultural areas. Whether they heed it or not is another story.

FEAST: Congratulations to Bakerlads Farms in southeast Michigan. Blaine and Kim Baker will receive the 2019 MSU Dairy Farmer of the Year Award. The dairy is the brothers’ fifth-generation farm in Lenawee County, Clayton, Mich., which has been in operation since the 1870s.

Bakerlads Farms includes a dairy herd of 540 Holsteins and 607 replacements, as well as acreage for crops, including corn, soybeans and alfalfa. 

The farm is Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program verified in livestock, farmstead and cropping systems, and evaluated under the National Dairy Farmers Assuring Responsible Management program for animal care.

“The Bakerlads Farms is just one example of how integrating conservation practices throughout the farming system, and attention to detail in on-farm nutrient management can keep crop nutrients in the root zone and out of waterways,” noted Tim Harrigan, professor and Extension specialist in MSU’s Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, in a 2015 MSU Extension article highlighting Bakerlads.